If You Must Punt, Punt With Style
Today we had the first of two exams in CMJ 103, Fundamentals of Public Communication. The exams are worth 15% of our final grade apiece, so they’re important but not, individually, absolutely critical. Which is good, because they’re kind of annoyingly at odds with the way the rest of the class works. We don’t really use the textbook for much, other than to read through chapters having to do with what we’re trying to accomplish in the speaking part of the class, but the test questions are drawn directly from the textbook, and so a lot of them are very specifically terminological.
Since public speaking these days is basically a really lite-beer subset of psychology, that terminology is mostly rather soft and vague, and specific to this particular book, so we’re not really being tested on what things are called generally as on what this particular author likes to call them. I find this irritating and frankly kind of a waste of my precious, aged brain cells.
Still, most of the test was multiple choice, and multiple-choice tests are the optimal form for things based on specific terminology, as far as I’m concerned. Oftentimes the prospective answers will include two things that are obviously terms from the book, one of which is right and the other of which is either its opposite or irrelevant, two things that are completely made up but were intended to seem convincingly like terms from the book if you weren’t really paying attention, and one that is just completely ridiculous and is presumably just there to weed out the students who can’t actually read at all.
So 45 multiple choice questions went past… pretty quickly. This concerned me slightly, since the instructor had said as we were beginning that she’d seen students in one of the other CMJ 103 divisions still at work on their exam at the end of the previous class period. We had 50 minutes to get the whole test done and I washed up on the beach at the end of the multiple-choice section in about 17. Christ, I thought, the essay question must be hellacious.
You see, the two parts that weren’t multiple-choice were a single five-part short answer question and one essay question at the end. In the latter, we were meant to read a sample speech introduction and then critique it as to whether it contained all the bits the book tells us a speech introduction is supposed to have in it. This proved to be easy and, apart from the necessity to write it down on unlined paper in a way that the instructor would be able to read (yes, I’m 37 and I still have trouble writing on unlined paper without my lines getting all slanty-wanty, which I used to get into trouble for in the second grade), wasn’t time-consuming either. Slightly puzzled at having finished everything but the short answer question in less than half the class period, I backtracked to the short answer question, which I had skipped for fear that I would need all the time for the essay.
This, next to an indicator that it was worth five points of our total grade, was, “Name the five stages of the situational audience analysis process.”
I considered this for upward of a minute (it felt longer) and had to concede that I had no idea. The audience analysis chapter was the squidgiest, psychologyish-est chapter in the half of the book we’ve so far read, even more tiresome and pompous than the one about Speaking Ethics, and though I get the basic idea, I had absorbed almost none of the specific terminology, in part because we’re not going to have time to be doing audience research before our actual speaking assignments anyway. So I had no idea what the five stages of the situational (as opposed to demographical – I could have at least made some basic guesses if it’d been that one) audience analysis process are.
Thus, I instead answered this way (paraphrasing slightly from memory, but without deliberate abridgement):
[5 PTS] Name the five stages of the situational audience analysis process.
1. I have to confess that I’m drawing a complete blank on this particular subject.
2. I will therefore sacrifice these five points to the dark gods of exam questions.
3. Iä! Iä!, etc. (Lovecraft, 1930)
I doubt my instructor will get the Lovecraft reference (she doesn’t strike me as that sort of girl, though I admit that may be me erroneously pre-judging the audience), but at least I didn’t just leave it blank. And I did do a bit of audience analysis – you can see it by the South Park reference. (I can’t stand that show, but I know the instructor likes it.) And I did include a citation! Though I may have gotten the year wrong.